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E06923: Aldhelm, in his poem On the Altars of the Twelve Apostles, records the dedication of an altar to *John (the Apostle and Evangelist, S00042), presumably in Britain. Written in Latin in southern Britain, c. 670/710.

online resource
posted on 17.10.2018, 00:00 by bsavill
Aldhelm, Carmina Ecclesiastica, 4.5

Nec minus interea glomeretur virgo Iohannes,
Quem germana simul iunxit concordia Christo,
Dum pandam vetulo liquit cum patre carinam
Retibus aequoreas claudentem marmore praedas;
Qui prius algosis verrebat caerula remis
Piscibus insidias nectens sub gurgite ponti;
Sed clamante Deo luctantes litore limphas
Retiferamque ratem caro cum fratre relinquit
Et Dominum sequitur, caeli qui regnat in arce.

Hic fuit egregius Christi regnantis alumnus,
Omnibus anterior, magno dilectus amore;
Quem rex extorrem, Romae qui regna regebat,
Trusit in exilium cumba trans caerula vectum,
Exul qua positus rerum spectacula plura
Crevit in extasi caelesti numine fretus,
Quae modo membranis per mundum scripta leguntur.
Pausat in Effeso praefatus corpore praesul
Praemia sumptums , cum clanget classica salpix,
Ultima dum priscis labuntur tempora saeclis.

'v. On St John the Apostle and Evangelist
No less was the virgin John recruited at that time, whom brotherly love [for his brother St James] joined to Christ, when John too abandoned his ageing father in the curved boat, which contained in its nets the watery catch (taken) from the sea [Mt. 4:21-2]. John formerly used to sweep along the blue waters with oars dripping sea-weed, weaving snares for fish beneath the water's surface; but when Christ called to him, he left the waves beating against the shore and the net-filled boar and, together with his dear brother, followed the Lord Who reigns in the citadel of Heaven.

John was the outstanding disciple of Christ the King, coming before all the others, beloved (by Christ) with great affection. The Emperor [i.e. Domitian] who ruled the Roman Empire forced John as an outcast into exile, transporting him by boat across the seas (to Patmos). Stationed there as an exile, he saw in a trance – aided by the heavenly will – many visions of things, which are now written on parchment and read throughout the world [i.e. in the biblical Apocalypse]. This aforementioned apostle lies buried at Ephesus, ready to receive the rewards when the battle-trumpet resounds as the last days (of the world) pass away with former ages.'

Text: Ehwald 1919, 23-4. Translation: Lapidge and Rosier 1985, 52-3.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

John, the Apostle and Evangelist : S00042

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Poems



Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Britain and Ireland

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

St Albans St Albans Verulamium

Major author/Major anonymous work


Cult activities - Places

Cult building - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Apparition, vision, dream, revelation


The Carmina Ecclesiastica is an editor's title for a collection of five dedicatory poems for churches and altars (tituli) by the Anglo-Saxon scholar Aldhelm (ob. 709/10), who probably never intended them to be viewed together as a single group (Lapidge and Rosier, 1985, 35-45). Aldhelm appears to have been a son of Centwine, king of the Gewisse or West Saxons (south-west Britain) from 676 until 682/5, when he abdicated and retired to a monastery. We do not know when Aldhelm himself took religious vows, but he definitely attended, perhaps for many years, Archbishop Theodore and Abbot Hadrian’s school at Canterbury (from shortly after 670?), and possibly studied at the Irish foundation of Iona, off the coast of north-west Britain (perhaps in the 660s?). Around 682/6 he became abbot of the West Saxon monastery of Malmesbury, and in 689 probably accompanied King Cædwalla on his pilgrimage to Rome (see E05710 and E06661). In 705/6 he was appointed ‘bishop west of the wood’ in his home kingdom (later identifiable with the diocese of Sherborne). (For all aspects of Aldhelm’s career, see Lapidge, 2007.) Carmen Ecclesiasticum 4 is by far the longest poem of the group, and is divided into twelve parts, one for each of the twelve Apostles (with Paul as the replacement for Judas Iscariot); we have entered each of these parts separately into our database, as E06919-E06930. The poem survives through four continental European manuscripts.


Bugga's church in Carmen Ecclesiasticum 3, with its primary dedication to Mary, is described as having 'holy altars [which] gleam in twelve-fold dedication' (E06918), so it is possible that the twelve poems to the different Apostles of Carmen Ecclesiasticum 4 relate to twelve altars in this church. Even if they refer to different institutions, the two poems suggest that twelve-fold apostolic dedications of churches may not have been unusual in the early Anglo-Saxon church. Aldhelm's main source for Carmen Ecclesiasticum 4 is Isidore of Seville's On the Origin and Death of the Fathers. (See further Lapidge and Rosier, 1985, 41-44, 239-42.)


Edition: Ehwald, R., Aldhelmi opera (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi 15; Berlin, 1919). Translation: Lapidge, M., and Rosier, J.L., Aldhelm, The Poetic Works (Cambridge, 1985). Further reading: Lapidge, M., "The Career of Aldhelm," Anglo-Saxon England 36 (2007), 15-69.

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